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TB threat to north-west dairy farms

17 March 1999
TB threat to north-west dairy farms

TUBERCULOSIS in cattle is now so widespread that it threatens to engulf the major dairy-farming areas of north-west England …more…



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TB threat to north-west dairy farms

17 March 1999
TB threat to north-west dairy farms

By Johann Tasker and Isabel Davies

TUBERCULOSIS in cattle is now so widespread that it threatens to engulf the major dairy-farming areas of north-west England.

Farms which have been TB-free for decades are reporting disease outbreaks, and even the governments own statistics show the number of incidents is soaring.

“Its terrible and heartbreaking,” said Christine Chester, whose Staffordshire dairy herd was placed under restriction only last month after being TB-free for 40 years.

“I feel that we cant go on, but we cant afford to sell up.”

New outbreaks of TB, once concentrated in the “hot spot” counties of south west England and South Wales, have now been reported elsewhere.

Confirmed incidents in Lancashire, Cheshire, and Northumberland are casting a shadow over the governments control programme.

Four new confirmed TB incidents were found in the north-west during the first half of last year, even though the three counties were free from the disease in 1997.

A further five cases were confirmed in Warwickshire, Hertfordshire, Oxfordshire, and Nottinghamshire – all of which were TB-free counties just two years ago.

The rising tide of TB was confirmed by junior agriculture minister Jeff Rooker in a parliamentary written answer on 12 March.

Yesterday, Mr Rooker told the House of Commons Agricultural Select Committee that the government was committed to fighting TB.

But he said that extra culling of the badgers suspected of transmitting the disease will only proceed if the practice did not interfere with the ongoing Krebs trial.

Mr Rookers evidence to MPs came just days after MAFF unveiled new plans for its programme of research, including £1.4 million for vaccine development.

Other research aims to advance the methods of identifying TB strains more closely, and improve the understanding of the role of badgers in disease transmission.

But Mr Rooker urged farmers to refrain from pinning their hopes on one method of reducing TB. “Nothings perfect – theres no one solution,” he said.

Farmers will face yet more paperwork as MAFF attempts to collect more information about farms where there have been TB breakdowns.

A new 32-page form, to be completed by MAFF staff with the help of farmers, includes questions about cattle movements, husbandry, and the local environment.

It will be used on all farms with TB, and on an equal number of “matching” farms which have not experienced a recent TB outbreak as a control.

The data will then be analysed and the results used to develop strategies for the control of TB which may include changes to animal husbandry practices.

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